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2011 - Volume 2 Issue 2
Vida Buena
Let's Go Out
Article: Joe Burgess
Photos: Brad Cooper
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The symposium may well be the best cowboy festival in the nation with a host of activities taking place in Southern New Mexico's mountain playground. Storytellers and musicians abound, chuckwagon cooks will be oiling up their cast iron pots and skillets for the cookoff; cowboys will be brushing down their horses and cinching up their saddles; youngsters will be concerned about the butterflies in their stomach as the goat-tying contest approaches and everyone will have shined their boots and polished their buckles in anticipation of a whole lot of dancing. And you don't even have to be a cowboy to be totally enthralled by all the action, the arts and crafts and the old west atmosphere.

    The Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium in Ruidoso Downs has been called the "Best Cowboy Cultural Event" by the National Cowboy Symposium Association and one of "North America's Top 100 Events" by the American Bus Association. It's just up the road from El Paso and Las Cruces and it's three days of family fun you won't want to miss.

Lincoln County
Cowboy Symposium

Ruidoso Downs
Race Track & Casino
Ruidoso Downs, NM 88346
My favorite part of the Symposium relates to the chuckwagons– you know, beans and biscuits and a chunk of meat cooked in a kettle over an open campfire - the likes of which neither my mother nor grandmother could come close to matching. This year, 2011, True West Magazine is calling the competition the "Best Chuckwagon Contest." Last year, 24 Chuckwagon teams from throughout the Southwest vied for prizes that included overall world champion, wagon authenticity for both trail drives and ranch use; wagons traveling the most distance to the symposium and, of course, the best meat, beans, potatoes, bread, dessert and biscuits & gravy. Just the thought of the aromas curling up with the campfire smoke makes my mouth water and my stomach growl. And yes, the Symposium has been featured on the Food Channel. Are you convinced yet to be part of this celebration of old west traditions?

You should be there for the kickoff on Thursday evening. The younger generation may not remember the pure, flawless vocals of Mel Tillis, but this mega-performer/songwriter is truly one of the greats and will be on the stage October 6, 2011. Oh come on, you know the song Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town sung by Kenny Rogers, Emotions from Brenda Lee and Thoughts of a Fool recorded by George Strait. They are among over a thousand songs penned by Mel Tillis. Mel's own singles, nine of which hit #1 on the charts, include Good Woman Blues, Coca Cola Cowboy and Southern Rain. In the 1970s, he was Country Music's Performer of the Year and four-time Comedian of the Year. More recently, he has been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and into the Grand Ole Opry membership. He has also received the Golden Voice Entertainer Award and Golden R.O.P.E. Songwriter Award. Do you really want to miss an opportunity to witness this legendary figure?

This year's festival is the 22nd held "to preserve and promote the cowboy way of life," as envisioned by founder Ray Reed. A guitar picker, composer, bandleader, poet, promoter, singer and storyteller, Ray grew up on a New Mexico ranch and "cowboyin'" became a way of life for him. His family arrived in the Clovis area by covered wagon in the early 1900s. He did the railroad boxcar thing in the 1930s, hitching a ride to California and met Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys band. The drug scene began taking a toll on California's musicians and Ray returned to New Mexico to promote the World's Richest Quarter Horse Race – the All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs.

Suspecting that the cowboy culture was disappearing, Ray was convinced he could help keep it alive with a well-conceived festival. The home of Billy the Kid, cattleman John Chisum, the Lincoln County Wars and the three distinct cultures responsible for settling the west - Native American, Hispanic and the American Cowboy – made Ruidoso the right location to promote Ray's dream. Western Swing Music was a key element of his vision that included the revival of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys and the Texas Playboys remain part of the festival today. The other key ingredient needed for a successful festival had to be – chuckwagon food.

Financing from current racetrack owner, R.D. Hubbard, and Hondo Oil and Gas owner R.O. Anderson, started the spokes turning. The first Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium was held in nearby Glencoe in 1990 and more recently it was moved to the Ruidoso Downs Racetrack and Casino to allow for more participants and visitors. Festival date is always the first full weekend in October, this year October 7, 8 and 9, 2011, with the Mel Tillis concert October 6. ///
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